Though my pregnancy was certainly unplanned, and I admit that I tried to have an abortion in 1966, everything changed for me when my daughter was born. Everything. Giving her up was the worst/hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and I will spend the rest of my life accepting that. So I can't figure these women out.
Several years ago I read about a type of personality in the New York Times that is able to put aside, or internalize, bad things that happened to them--the total opposite of "let it all hang out," and there was some thought that this might be psychologically healthy--perhaps even healthier--than keeping the hurt alive. Well, all that is fine, but when you have a child, no matter what, you end up with a certain amount of responsibility to that child. Even if you are unable to have a relationship--because of the constant pain that resurfaces--you owe that individual at least as much information as you can give, and one face to face meeting at the very least.
The best understanding I can have of these women is that the birth and relinquishment was so painful that they can not deal with having it resurface, as it all does during a reunion. Oh, it does. During that time of initial reunion it feels as if the scabs are all ripped off the grief and you're back to where you were when it happened--but at least with the knowledge that you are able to know your child. Which is the relief. I used to look forward to my daughter's visits (which might be the entire summer) but she had a myriad of psychological problems, many relating to her epilepsy, that drew me and the rest of my immediate family into her vortex. Consequently, when she left there was always tremendous relief, and guilt over feeling the relief. I've hated to admit this, but it's true.
Yet despite any difficulties...
The need for the vast majority of adoptees and their first mothers to reunite was considered by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) nearly three decades ago. After holding numerous hearings on the issue around the country, the agency included these words in a proposed Model Adoption Act in 1980:
“There can be no legally protected interest in keeping one’s identity secret from one’s biological offspring; parents and child are considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth….The birth parents’ interest in reputation is not alone deserving of constitutional protection.”While some provisions of the act were promulgated, the recently formed National Council for Adoption (and, FYI, for closed adoptions) led the fight to keep this out the bill. According to E. Wayne Carp in Family Matters, HEW received more than 3,000 comments from the public, 82 percent of which opposed the model act entirely. Ninety percent of the adoptive parents who responded objected to the open-records provision. I'm going to project that if the bill came up today, adoptive parents would not mount this kind of opposition, because a Cornell University survey of more than a thousand adoptive parents found that the majority of them (80 percent) supported reunion. Or at least, giving their children the tools to effect it--that is, the information of their birth.
When the bill passed, the open records provision was rewritten "to protect the privacy of the birth parents."
Every woman who surrenders a child deserves our understanding, but...how do we reach those who reject a reunion? Maybe just by getting more of good reunion stories out there. The biggest hurdle for many is likely to be that they never told their new families, and how are they going to spill the beans? The husband/family is certainly going to feel as if they were lied to for all these years. Just as adoptees who were not told and find out when they are older feel betrayed. Lied to.
And on the other side, there are adoptees who reunite and then walk away, leaving the mother bereft and feeling worse than before the reunion.
Adoption is always painful. We are always making the best of a sad situation.